If you've ever talked to someone who farms in the Chesapeake Bay region on the East Coast, water quality is foremost on their minds. In some areas there are certain things they can and can't do when it comes to fertilization based on environmental rules that have already been set in place.
Ted McKinney, state director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, doesn't want Indiana to become another example where federal regulators tell farmers what they can and can't do on their land because of possible impacts on water quality.
He's been on the job fewer than six months, but he already realizes that protecting water quality and working with other conservation partners to get the job done is a big deal. It's not something that can wait, he believes.
McKinney says the Division of Soil is the biggest entity within ISDA. That's because they have resource specialists who work with soil and water conservation spread across Indiana.
"We have boots on the ground, and they work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, local soil and water conservation districts and others to help farmers who want to do a better job accomplish their goals.
Funding is available from NRCS for cost-sharing and land rental for certain practices, like grass waterways and filter strips, which both help filter out sediment and keep nutrients out of waterways.
Sediment is still the number one pollutant in Indiana waters. It often carries particles of fertilizer or herbicides along with it. One of the nutrients that regulators look most closely at is phosphorus. The other is nitrogen. When nitrates end up in the Gulf of Mexico, it produces a condition called hypoxia, which affects the normal environmental balance in the region.
"We need to work on this now," McKinney says. "We've got about two to three years to do it voluntarily and get it right. We don't want regulators telling Hoosiers what they must do."